Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

OAS rollback will hurt low-income seniors: report

Many Canadians will spend their golden years in poverty, if a government decision to change the eligibility age for retirement benefits isn't reversed, according to a report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The report notes rolling back Old Age Security (OAS) eligibility to 67, from 65, not only will create hardship for seniors unable to delay retirement — those who are sick or in physically demanding positions, for instance — but also for low-income Canadians who desperately need that benefit to get by.

"It means suffering for people in their old age," says Angella MacEwen, a CCPA research associate. "Choosing to work longer is one thing. But forcing Canadians without workplace pensions or large savings to work full-time past 65 is unfair, especially given the high probability that the jobs many are able to find will be part-time and low paid."

In her report, released Monday, MacEwen notes it would take a considerable amount of hours working in low-wage jobs or self-employment to replace the maximum OAS/GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement) benefit of about $14,000 per year for individuals, or even to replace the basic OAS benefit of a little more than $5,000 per year.

For many Canadians, in fact, it will require doubling their annual income.

Ottawa curbs ability of green groups to intervene in review process

The federal government will limit the ability of environmental groups to intervene in reviews of major resource projects, as it moves to speed up approvals for pipelines and other resource projects.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Tuesday that Ottawa will soon table legislation that will reduce the number of projects that undergo federal environmental assessment by exempting smaller developments completely and by handing over many large ones to the provinces.

Mr. Oliver said the government will also bring in new measures to prevent project opponents from delaying the assessment process by flooding hearings with individuals who wish to speak against the development.

The Conservative government was dismayed when the National Energy Board extended its hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry oil-sands bitumen to the British Columbia coast for export to Asia by super-tanker. The regulator was responding to requests from more than 4,000 individuals to give oral testimony at hearings now under way.

After railing for months against radical environmentalists bent on blocking resource development, the Natural Resources Minister signaled Tuesday the government will cut them out of the assessment process unless they can prove they would be directly affected by the project.

Romanow blasts Harper's charter view

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on “the wrong side of history” by failing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms to avoid stirring up lingering resentment in Quebec, says former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.

In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CBC’s Power & Politics, Romanow believes bitter divisions have dissipated over time, and that Harper is in a “very, very small minority of Canadians” not marking the occasion as a historic milestone.

“I’m saddened a bit that the prime minister would not recognize it as an important contribution to Canada’s nation-building, an articulation of our values and our responsibilities," he said. "However, he’s entitled to his point of view."

The prime minister called the 30th anniversary an “interesting and important step,” but noted the charter remains inextricably linked to the patriation of the constitution — and divisions around that remain “very real.”

Harper also noted the charter had roots in the Bill of Rights established by former Progressive Conservative prime minister, John Diefenbaker, in 1960.

Romanow suggested the statements were unnecessarily partisan in tone.

Wildrose candidate says his advantage is being white

The leader of Alberta's Wildrose party had another fire to put out Tuesday, after one of the party's candidates said he had a political advantage in the upcoming election because he is white.

Ron Leech, the Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Greenway, said in a radio interview Sunday night that "as a Caucasian I have an advantage."

"When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks they really speak to their own people in many ways," Leech said. "As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community."

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, who had to defend one of her candidates on Monday for posting anti-gay views online, came to Leech's defence Tuesday, saying his comments are not cause for concern.

"I think that every candidate puts forward their best argument for why they should be the person who can best represent the community," Smith said at a campaign event.

Smith said she believes Leech made his comments to illustrate his ability to reach out to people from different backgrounds. She pointed out that Leech runs a private school that includes students from different cultural communities, and is also running in an ethnically diverse riding.

Ottawa to slash environment review role

The federal government is reducing the number of departments and agencies that can do environmental reviews from 40 to just three to speed up approvals for projects that will bolster Canada's economy, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said today.

Expanding on plans announced in the March 29 budget, Oliver on Tuesday laid out the specifics of the Conservative government's major overhaul of environmental assessments, aimed at speeding up what the minister labelled a "duplicative, cumbersome and uncertain" process.

The moves are sure to please companies that have long complained of a lengthy, costly review process, citing previous major projects that have taken almost a decade to gain approval.

But the measures were immediately condemned by opposition MPs and environmental groups, which said the Harper government's push for "streamlining" was merely code for gutting Canada's environmental assessment process.

Oliver insisted the new plan is critical to creating jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity.

"With scarce resources, it is counter-productive to have the federal and provincial governments completing separate reviews of the same project," Oliver said in Toronto.

A simple question, a blizzard of emails, and a peek inside how Canada's bureaucracy works

OTTAWA — The Citizen asked the National Research Council a simple question back in March: What’s this joint study that you and NASA are doing on falling snow?

The federal department never agreed to an interview. It sent an email instead, with technical details on equipment but without much information on the nature of the project.

It never even explained the study’s topic.

Before sending even that modest response, however, it took a small army of staffers — 11 of them by our count — to decide how to answer, and dozens of emails back and forth to circulate the Citizen’s request, discuss its motivation, develop their response, and “massage” its text.

All this for a question about how snow falls.

NASA, meanwhile, answered everything in a single phone call. It took about 15 minutes.

Now papers released under an access to information request show the Byzantine world of how federal departments respond to even the simplest request for information with second-guessing and internal strategy, but few answers.

Unions, opposition attack hefty bonuses for top government executives

Unions representing thousands of public servants who risk losing their jobs because of the Conservative government’s budget cuts say their members will be angered to learn top government executives received hefty increases in performance pay and bonuses last year.

“I think they will be furious,” said Patty Ducharme, national executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). “They will be angry, they will be frustrated. People will not be happy, particularly when you think that we have had thousands and thousands of workforce adjustment notices.”

Some executives received as much in performance pay and bonuses as entry-level public servants earn in a year, she pointed out.

Claude Poirier, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) said most of his members will be upset.

“What [the government] has said publicly is that the public service was too big. Now, we see that the number of [executives] has been growing, we see that their bonuses and performance pay have been increasing, so I guess there are certain categories of public service employees who are worth more to them — namely executives.

“This is quite disturbing to see.”

The Harper regime in question

Stephen Harper and his government are in trouble. Charges of concealing the real costs of the F-35 fighter jets, confirmed by the auditor general, a Harper appointee, are not going away, despite an Easter parliamentary recess. These $10 billion in hidden costs were revealed by the parliamentary budget officer (an innovation of the Harper government) prior to the May 2, 2011 election, and led to the government being found in contempt of parliament, provoking a non-confidence motion, and the May election.

Elections Canada is investigating charges of voter interference in over 200 ridings in the last election. Non-Conservative supporters were falsely informed their polling stations had been moved.

Contrary to government claims, the recent federal budget clearly reduces public services, while weakening food inspection, environmental safeguards, border security, pure research, information on welfare, and foreign aid, amongst other programs. Economists see the budget killing jobs and threatening economic recovery. The retirement age is being pushed back by two years, without substantial evidence being given for the change. Ottawa, and the entire national capital region, are going to be particularly hard hit by spending and personnel cutbacks.

Industries hail Ottawa’s environmental oversight overhaul

The energy and mining industries are applauding the Harper government’s plan to dramatically shrink the federal oversight of proposed natural resource developments and hand over much of the responsibility to provinces.

But environmental groups worry the government is preparing to abdicate its responsibility for environmental protection.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is due to unveil a sweeping legislative plan on Tuesday that will focus Ottawa’s role in environmental assessments to projects it deems to be of national significance.

Under the proposed legislation, Ottawa would concentrate its effort on environmental assessments of “major economic projects,” according to background information obtained by The Globe and Mail. Provinces will set their own level of oversight for smaller projects.

Executives from the oil and mining sectors say efforts to end current duplication and to streamline the review process will improve the economics of capital-intensive projects and help attract investment to Canada.

Regulatory reform is “super important for Canada, in terms of competitiveness,” said Travis Davies, spokesman with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which supports a move to shift reviews to provinces.

Canada needs temporary unemployment assistance: think tank

Young workers, women, immigrants and urban dwellers are chronic losers in Canada’s Employment Insurance regime.

They’re less likely to get EI when they’re out of work, and those that do, must work much harder to earn it.

A new report being released Tuesday by the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre public policy think tank says the solution is a new system of temporary unemployment assistance, or TUA.

“TUA would begin to reduce the regional disparities and urban-rural divide that have become defining aspects of Canada’s approach to supporting it’s unemployed,” said author Mary Davis.

Offering repayable temporary benefits would cost $1-billion in the first year, but less in subsequent years, the report estimates.

“This is a relatively small cost considering that TUA should fill major holes in the federal social safety net,” according to the report.

40 Years in Solitary Confinement: Two Members of Angola 3 Remain in Isolation in Louisiana Prison

It’s been 40 years to the day — since April 17, 1972, or 14,600 days ago — that Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox have been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana. The state says they were guilty of murdering a guard at Angola Prison, but Wallace, Woodfox and their network of supporters say they were framed for their political activism as members of the Black Panthers. Woodfox and Wallace founded the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1971. A third prisoner, Robert King, joined them a year later. The three campaigned for better working conditions and racial solidarity between inmates, as well as an end to rape and sexual slavery. Today, to mark the 40th anniversary of their placement in solitary confinement, Amnesty USA says it will deliver a petition to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal that bears the signatures of tens of thousands of people from 125 countries. We speak to Robert King, who was released in 2001 when his conviction was overturned and he pleaded guilty to a lesser offense. "We want the state of Louisiana and we want the world to know that we are still focusing on this case. This is a total violation of human rights and civil rights," King says. "And it is ongoing."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Going, Going, Gone: Dismantling the Progressive State

Now that some time has passed since the federal budget it might be useful to step back and assess what it says about where the government is taking us. Reaction has been pretty muted. The “centrist punditry” generally see this as an incremental budget, business as usual, “balanced” and “mature”. For our Globe editorialists, for example, this was not the transformative budget the government promised and a majority government supposedly made possible. According to them, the budget was OK; it earned a passing grade but had no vision, not much transformation. Canadians, according to one poll at least, did not much like the budget but found it benign. No matter how often the government tells us it is changing the game, we seem reluctant to believe it.

To some extent the apparent indifference can be attributed to the success of the time-tested techniques of strategic leaks and hints of even more drastic measures. Apparently that trick never gets tired; we are always relieved that things are better or at least not as awful as we feared. And of course, cuts to the public service probably always play well – this is easy politics, if costly policy – and scant detail is provided on the implications of those cuts for citizens. What information we get is in dribs and drabs and so we still don’t have an overall view. And budget debate was to some extent eclipsed by serious allegations of voter suppression, electoral misconduct, and misleading Parliament and the electorate on the costs of jets.

Stop politicizing the Charter

In recent days, some Liberals have chastised Conservatives for what they view as an act of deliberate partisanship by not “celebrating” the 30th anniversary of the Canada Act 1982. That is itself an act of narrow partisanship that does nothing but diminish the significance of marking this important day and learning the important lessons from it. Those who direct criticism at people who choose not to celebrate this anniversary are demonstrating the very intolerant ignorance they claim to abhor.

As I see it, the only people politicizing the Charter anniversary are Liberals, and no one else. Much like the Conservatives have used the military as their stage props, some Liberals use the Charter of Rights as theirs.

Embedded in the Charter are values that include human freedom in all its dimensions, respect for the individual, tolerance of others and their point of view, acceptance, and compromise. The Charter belongs to all Canadians. No one party has a right of ownership, and I find it distasteful that some Liberals claim it as theirs and theirs alone.

It’s not. Many Progressive Conservative and NDP leaders, both federally and provincially, supported repatriation and entrenching the Charter of Rights. In fact, they were absolutely indispensible to it. Just ask Brian Peckford, Richard Hatfield, Bill Davis, Peter Lougheed, Bill Bennett, and Howard Pawley.

Those that took exception to the idea of a codified Charter did so for perfectly legitimate reasons. We have no business being dismissive of their point of view.

Is the Charter changing Canada for the worse?

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the 30th anniversary of which falls today, is changing Canada for the worse — its emphasis on individual rights may trump the broader public good and even open the door to Americanization of medicare, says one of its architects, Roy Romanow, the former NDP premier of Saskatchewan.

A new generation of “Charter kids” and “Charter judges” is advancing individual rights and diluting the “communitarian impulses” of Canadians, he said in a telephone interview from Saskatoon, where he teaches at the University of Saskatchewan.

Romanow played a pivotal role at the historic 1981 First Ministers’ Conference in Ottawa that paved the way to the signing of the Charter by the Queen on April 17, 1982.

As Saskatchewan’s attorney general at the time, he worked across party lines to help break a deadlock between then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and the premiers.

Joining him in brokering the Charter were Liberal Jean Chrétien, then-federal minister of justice, and Conservative Bill Davis, premier of Ontario, and his attorney general Roy McMurtry.

I spoke to all four for the landmark Charter anniversary.

Chrétien, Davis and McMurtry spoke glowingly about how the Charter has made Canada a more equitable society.

Bureaucratic nightmare stalls immigration for newlyweds

Aaron Amorim’s midwinter wedding to his fiancée, Sarah, appeared to go off without a hitch.

The day, Feb. 4, dawned springlike and beautiful. The bride wore a classic white dress with a long train. Guests at their Scarborough reception ate steak and chicken before the newlyweds caught an early-morning flight to Mexico.

But a seemingly insignificant clerical error on their marriage certificate has become a bureaucratic blockade that threatens to separate the newlyweds indefinitely.

“I have no problem jumping through hoops,” says Amorim. “But no one would clearly specify what those hoops were.”

Amorim’s wife is American and lives in Michigan. The couple, who met online, planned for Sarah Amorim to move to Ontario once they were married: Aaron, a software developer, has the better-paying job.

Soon after the wedding, Amorim began assembling the documentation for his wife to immigrate. When he sent her a copy of their marriage certificate, she noticed an error — it recorded their wedding date as Feb. 5 instead of the 4th.

Tea Party Speaker Reportedly Tells LGBT Protesters: 'We Will Not Be Silenced By F*ggots'

A Tea Party tax day protest and counter-demonstration in Boston got testy over the weekend, with the confrontation reportedly leading to a speaker telling a group of LGBT activists that they wouldn't be "silenced by faggots."

Scott Wooledge relays the supposed slur in a lengthy post at Daily Kos breaking down the encounter between Tea Partyers, counter-protesters from numerous progressive groups and police officers.
Reports from attendees were that in response to disturbances by protestors, one of the speakers said from the podium, broadcast across the loud speakers at the Commons, "We will not be silenced by faggots."
The comment reportedly came while police were being dispatched to break up the counter-demonstration against, among other things, the presence and honoring of anti-gay activist Scott Lively at the event.

Buffett Rule Vote: Tax Measure Fails In Senate

WASHINGTON -- Democrats' attempt to pass a Buffett Rule tax on the super wealthy failed Monday in the Senate, as Republicans blocked the measure in a sharply partisan debate.

Democrats cast it as a bid for fairness that would end the circumstance in which billionaires like Warren Buffett pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than their secretaries.

Republicans cast it as a political gimmick and an attempt by President Barack Obama to give more Americans a "free ride."

It was blocked 51-45 in a filibuster vote. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas were the only politicians to cross party lines.

"The wealthiest one percent takes home the highest share of the nation's income since the early '20s, the roaring '20s," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. "Times are tough for many middle class American families. Millionaires and billionaires aren't sharing the pain or the sacrifice, not one bit. Last year there were 7,000 millionaires who didn't pay a single penny in federal income taxes."

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) countered that statistics show the rich are paying plenty, and that it's the bottom half of the income ladder that is doing too little.

Federal Reserve Officials Leave For Wall Street With Privileged Info

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Reserve may be making an effort to open up some of its famously opaque decision making, but the newfound interest in transparency doesn't extend to sharing records of meetings that happened years ago.

The Huffington Post and MSNBC's "Dylan Ratigan Show" filed Freedom of Information Act requests in January to obtain the minutes of Federal Open Market Committee meetings from 2007 to 2010. That month, the Fed had released the 2006 minutes of the confidential committee, which essentially sets national monetary policy.

In response, the bank provided 513 pages of mostly blacked-out paper and cited policy to justify withholding the information. "[T]he Committee has a long-standing policy of routinely releasing full transcripts on a five-year schedule. Each year's transcripts will be made public in their entirety according to that schedule," the bank offered by way of explanation.

By withholding the 2007 and 2008 minutes, the Fed is able to keep secret certain information on how it decided to respond to the financial crisis until after the presidential election, hampering what could be a serious debate between the two parties on its response.

Maritime helicopters a cautionary tale for taxpayers on F-35 jets

The Harper government agreed to go easy on the maker of the air force's long-delayed maritime helicopters after winning a series of economic concessions, new documents reveal.

The ongoing saga involving the CH-148 Cyclones serves a cautionary tale for taxpayers in the raging debate over the F-35 stealth fighter, according to a leading defence expert.

In exchange for not receiving fully capable and operational helicopters on time in 2010, Public Works and National Defence managed to wring $110-million in extra industrial and economic promises out of U.S.-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Peter MacKay says.

It also won concessions from the manufacturer on the cost of operating the helicopter, an extension to the long-term maintenance contract and a vague promise to “restructure liquidated damages,” which were the result of Sikorsky's failure to deliver aircraft on time.

The documents, dated June 2010, were released just recently to The Canadian Press under access-to-information laws.

The $5.7-billion program, which has been beset by cost-overruns and delays, has been the subject of intense criticism by the Auditor-General, similar to the much more expensive F-35 fighter program.

Front-runner in Alberta election says climate science 'not settled'

EDMONTON - The woman leading a front-running party in Alberta's provincial election has cast doubt on the widely accepted scientific theory that human activity is a leading cause of global warming.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith made the comment in an online leaders debate organized by two Alberta newspapers.

"We have always said the science isn't settled and we need to continue to monitor the debate," said Smith in response to a direct question from a reader.

"We recognize the world is in a long-term transition away from hydrocarbon fuels. We believe the best way to reduce emissions is through consumer rebates for energy audits, microgeneration and home renovations, as well as broad-based tax breaks for investment in R&D for new environmental technologies."

A Wildrose official confirmed Smith's statement reflects a longtime party policy.

Smith has always been coy about whether she believes carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are altering the Earth's climate.

The Charter at 30: The unfinished business of constitutional reform

Something funny happened this week on the way to marking the 30th anniversary of the repatriation of the Constitution and the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While the assessment of English-speaking analysts of the impact of the Charter over the last thirty years was largely positive, their French-speaking counterparts struck a markedly different tone. Focusing their remarks on the Charter’s impact on federalism, opinion leaders still express concern over the power of the Charter to erode our system’s ability to reflect its federal nature.

There is no question that, in many ways, the adoption of the Charter has had a positive impact on Canada.  But from the point of view of its impact on political discourse about federalism and the practice of federalism, it is difficult to argue with the French-Canadian scholarship on the issue.

Whether we consider the major attempts at constitutional reform such as Meech or Charlottetown, or the more “mechanical” attempts at improving the intergovernmental system such as SUFA (the Social Union Framework Agreement), the Council of the Federation or the Health Accord, most political observers assess these proposals in terms of how it will “play in Quebec.” That is the lens through which federalism initiatives are judged, all too often to the exclusion of other regional considerations.

This is not to suggest that there is no good reason for this. As was made plain by some of the media coverage last week, the wound caused by the adoption of the Constitution without Quebec’s signature has not yet healed and therefore remains a legitimate concern for governments. Indeed, the scars left by the night of the long knives have had a profound impact on how we manage the Canada-Quebec relationship.

Why we celebrate our Charter’s Big 3-0

Canadians have reason to celebrate Tuesday’s 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Entrenched in the wake of our Constitution’s patriation, as a result of a bill passed by the British Parliament, the Charter is one of the most significant milestones in our country’s history, along with the adoption of federalism in 1867.

This watershed moment meant Canadians could henceforth amend their own Constitution without having to go begging to London to do so. Besides consecrating Canada’s legal sovereignty, this move enshrined the rights and freedoms of Canadians. It also consecrated the rule of law, which makes all citizens equal before the law and protects them from discrimination and arbitrary state actions.

Since the Charter was ushered in, our courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, have sanctioned all acts of public authority that violate the rights and freedoms of citizens beyond the constraints allowed within the realm of a free and democratic society.

Furthermore, Canadians respect the role of courts in this area, viewing them as impartial guardians of their rights. On occasion, citizens even accept that courts defend “unpopular” causes, so long as the Charter’s principles are maintained.

Be thankful for Canada's Charter, 30 years old today, and remember who hates it

Today is the 30th anniversary of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. On April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth signed our new Canadian Constitution, of which the Charter is part.

It should come as no surprise that the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- normally so obsessed with history, at least when it involves feats of arms -- is ignoring this turning point in Canadian history.

Part of this, naturally, is mere partisan politics. The Constitution would not have "come home," and the Charter would not be enshrined in law, had in not been for a Liberal prime minister, and one unpopular in Harper's circle to boot: Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

More significantly, however, it would be fair to say that the far right in Canada, of which Harper is part, dislikes the Charter, and certain extremist elements of the right despise and abhor it. Is his concern about "constitutional divisions" sincere? Not very likely.

The Charter is enormously popular among ordinary Canadians in all provinces, including Quebec, however, because they understand immediately and intuitively that stating clearly what our rights are in a document that overrides all other laws is an effective way to protect citizens from the wealthy and the mighty who throughout history have always acted in their own class interests.

Charter Of Rights Anniversary: Canada A 'Constitutional' Trendsetter

Forget, if you will, the prediction that Canada is fast becoming an energy superpower, able to wield influence on the world.

The question legal scholars are asking themselves these days is whether Canada is a "constitutional superpower," primarily on the back of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

According to several authorities, the charter, which turns 30 on April 17, has been influencing not just Canadian law but jurisprudence and the drafting of constitutions around the world.

In a forthcoming study that analyzes the content of the world's constitutions, titled, "The Declining Influence of the United States Constitution," its authors observe that, "a stark contrast can be drawn between the declining attraction of the U.S. Constitution as a model for other countries and the increasing attraction of the model provided by America’s neighbour to the north, Canada."

The study is by law professors David Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia and will be published in the June issue of the New York University Law Review. David Law was born in Vancouver and grew up in B.C.

One chapter — "Is Canada a constitutional superpower?" — says that "among common law countries, Canada has served as a constitutional trendsetter."

Stephen Harper says constitutional divisions keep him from celebrating Charter

SANTIAGO, Chile - The Conservative government has been notably silent on the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Stephen Harper says there's a reason for that.

The prime minister was asked during a trip to Chile what he thinks of the Charter and why his government isn't marking it in some way. Liberals in particular have criticized the silence on the Charter — it was entrenched in the Constitution under former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Harper offered a qualified response on the significance of the Charter in Canadian history.

"In terms of the anniversary, the Charter was an important step forward in the development of Canadian rights policy, a process that began in earnest with (Conservative prime minister) John Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights in 1960, so it's a little over 50 years old," Harper said.

Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights was not entrenched in the Constitution and did not carry the same weight in the courts as the Charter eventually did.

Harper alluded to the fact that Quebec did not sign on to the Constitution Act of 1982, of which the Charter was a part. Two other attempts to bring Quebec into the constitutional fold — the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords — failed.

Harper says charter was an 'important step forward'

SANTIAGO, Chile — Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a cautious assessment Monday for how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has changed Canada, merely saying the country's adoption of the legal protections three decades ago marked an "interesting and important" step forward.

Harper made the comments on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the patriation of the Constitution — a historic development that introduced the charter to Canada.

The prime minister has been criticized by Liberals — including former prime minister Jean Chretien — for not doing enough this week to mark the occasion.

They complain that Harper does not want to draw attention to how it was the Liberals led by then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau (and his then-justice minister Chretien) who gave Canadians the legal protections offered by the charter.

As well, critics believe Harper has reservations about whether the charter led to judicial activism and stripped elected politicians of the power to adequately set the legal framework for Canadian society.

Harper was asked at a news conference for his personal views on how the charter has improved Canada, and whether it led to too much "judge-made" law.

Canada’s Charter of Rights imposes vital limits on the discretion of government

Whatever else they may disagree on, critics and admirers of the Charter of Rights are united in their belief in its centrality. Whether you share the conviction of one critic that the day the Charter passed Canada “surrendered any claim to democratic self-government,” or whether you subscribe to the late Chief Justice Brian Dickson’s reported assessment, that the Charter transformed Canada from a system of “parliamentary supremacy” into one of “constitutional supremacy,” what is common to both is the suggestion of a fundamental break with the previous order.

That we have become a noticeably freer and fairer country in the 30 years since the Charter became law I do not dispute. But the changes it has wrought have as much to do with the system of law of which it is a part as with any particular provision of the Charter.

Indeed, the most common complaints about the Charter, that it has confined Parliament’s powers to make laws for the general good, while handing unelected judges the power to make law, are not only exaggerations: they could as well be said about the rule of law itself.

All laws, not just the Charter, bind the legislatures that pass them, at least until they are changed. All laws, not just the Charter, limit the discretion of governments. That is precisely their point. The purpose of law is not to restrain the citizens: governments can do that very well in its absence, as in any dictatorship. It is, rather, a restraint on government. We do not trust our leaders enough to permit them to rule by fiat. We make them put it in writing. We grant them this much power, and no more.

Conservative candidates will ask court to toss legal challenge to election result: lawyer

OTTAWA—Winning federal Conservative MPs will ask a judge to toss out a court challenge of last spring’s election result in seven ridings where the Council of Canadians says vote suppression was at work.

Toronto lawyer Arthur Hamilton said in an interview that the legal challenge brought by the Council of Canadians is “flawed” from the outset, and he intends to ask a Federal Court of Canada judge to strike the lawsuit.

The left-leaning citizen advocacy group argues that voters were cheated of their democratic rights in at least seven ridings where they say there are reports of robocalls and other political dirty tricks that were aimed at misdirecting voters from their polls.

The ridings are Don Valley East, Elmwood-Transcona, Nipissing-Tamiskaming, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Vancouver Island North, Winnipeg South Centre and Yukon.

Hamilton — who has previously represented the Conservative Party before the Gomery commission during the sponsorship inquiry, and was involved in the government’s response to allegations around former MP Helena Guergis — views the legal challenge as frivolous.

Stephen Harper’s Spite of Charter, 30th-anniversary edition

There was very little interesting about Stephen Harper’s decision not to fête the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights until he spoke about it.

Simply declining to celebrate an anniversary is no sin. Every day is an anniversary of something, and it’s a handy rule of thumb that quarter-centuries are best for festivity, or mourning, or any kind of acknowledgment. It’s true that Harper conspicuously didn’t celebrate the quarter-century of the Charter in 2006, but he was two months into office then and his government wasn’t exactly breathtaking in its agility. [UPDATE: Well, that's wrong. It was 2007. Insert some other mitigating rhetorical dance here. -pw ] Plus it’s a bit weird to use coverage of failure-to-commemorate-the-30th as a pretext to remind everyone of failure-to-commemorate-the-25th.

So, silence would have done little to placate people, including certain of my colleagues, who are pacing back and forth looking for something to be furious about. But it would have been essentially uninteresting. His motives would have been a matter of conjecture, and conjecture’s no fun in the absence of evidence.

But now he’s spoken and things are more interesting. From CP reporter Jennifer Ditchburn’s account of the PM’s remarks in Chile:

    “‘In terms of the anniversary, the Charter was an important step forward in the development of Canadian rights policy, a process that began in earnest with (Conservative prime minister) John Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights in 1960, so it’s a little over 50 years old,’ Harper said.

    “Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights was not entrenched in the Constitution and did not carry the same weight in the courts as the Charter eventually did.

    “Harper alluded to the fact that Quebec did not sign on to the Constitution Act of 1982, of which the Charter was a part. Two other attempts to bring Quebec into the constitutional fold — the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords — failed.

    “‘In terms of this as an anniversary, I think it’s an interesting and important step, but I would point out that the Charter remains inextricably linked to the patriation of the Constitution and the divisions around that matter, which as you know are still very real in some parts of the country,’ Harper said.

Ottawa to fast-track major energy projects

In an effort to fast-track lucrative energy and mining projects, the federal government will streamline its environmental assessment process and focus only on major, high-risk developments, such as the Northern Gateway pipeline, CTV News has learned.

Government sources say complex regulatory requirements involved in every environmental review will be replaced with a much faster process handled by only three government bodies instead of dozens of federal authorities whose work is often duplicated.

Environmental reviews will now have firm deadlines to approve or reject proposed resource projects within two years, CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver will formally announce Ottawa's plan on Tuesday.

Under the current system, some resource projects could take years to approve because of delays and bureaucratic wrangling.

Smaller, low-risk projects will no longer be subject to such federal reviews. Oversight will be handed over to the provinces, prompting criticism from environmental groups who say the reforms will put Canadians at risk.

America in Decline?

[Q&A] Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, discusses the implications of the rise of China and what it means for the United States.

On the heels of the release of his most recent book, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power, Zbigniew Brzezinski spoke to The Mark about the implications of the rise of China and what it means for American power.

As you point out in [your] book, there have been other periods in recent American history where the U.S. was seen to be in decline. For example, with the launch of Sputnik in 1957 ... after the Vietnam War and Watergate, right before you took office. So is today actually any different? Is the decline of the U.S. in 2012 more real than it has been in the past?

I think it’s more real, because in the past there were periods of uncertainty, and perhaps some degree of pessimism, but there wasn’t really a convincing rival whose dynamism and appeal threatened to shadow America’s. Today, in a way, there is, although I do not necessarily view China as such a rival yet. Nonetheless, the fact is that it is developing rapidly, its infrastructure is changing dramatically, its appeal to many places in the world is very much on the rise at a time [when] America, on a number of fronts (as I discuss in more detail in my book), is either stalled, or stagnating – or on the political level, very divisive.

Canada's Epic Fail in Latin America

It's hard to find two policies as indefensible as the Cuban embargo and the war on drugs. Yet Canada left the Summit of the Americas having stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States on these very policies.

Think of the biggest policy failures you can imagine. Policies that make worse the very problems they’re designed to solve. Policies so perverse that they actually give people a stake in the failure of those policies. Policies that last for decades in the face of overwhelming evidence of their failure.

Such a policy would be what my pre-teen son would call an “epic fail!”
There are two such fails in the Americas today. The first is the pathetically lame U.S. embargo on Cuba. After 50 years, the Cuban gerontocracy remains firmly entrenched in power.

The embargo has not just failed to end the dictatorship in Cuba – it has actually propped it up. It provides the regime with the best possible argument for refusing to liberalize: Its leaders warn that as soon as they open up the country, Miami Cubans will flood back to reclaim their property and privileges. A Cuban official once told me that Cuba has no need for opposition parties – the Miami Cubans fill that role.

So, why does this failed policy continue? The answer lies in U.S. electoral politics: No president is prepared to defy the Miami Cuban voters in the crucial electoral battleground state of Florida.

House Public Accounts Committee to hold emergency meeting Thursday into F-35 scandal

PARLIAMENT HILL—The Commons Public Accounts Committee has scheduled an emergency meeting for this Thursday in an opposition bid to call witness testimony from National Defence and other top bureaucrats who have been overseeing the controversial F-35 jet fighter program.

But Liberal and NDP MPs who obtained the special meeting even though Parliament remains on recess this week, told The Hill Timesthey expect Conservative MPs on the committee will use their government majority to force the session in camera to deal with a Liberal witness motion behind closed doors and put the government’s stamp on witnesses it wants.

And, as the committee meeting was being scheduled on Monday, The Hill Times found U.S. Senate records that show the Senate’s Armed Services Committee nearly passed a little-noticed budget motion on the multi-billion-dollar F-35 fighter jet last year to put the joint strike fighter program on “probation” for a year because of skyrocketing costs.

A record of the vote contained in the committee’s budget report to the Senate last June shows the vote on the motion tied at 13-13, halting it in its tracks, with one of the most famous U.S. Senators, Republican and 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain (Arizona) voting in favour of the motion and strongly criticizing the F-35 project in an addendum to the report.

Celebrate the Charter, but don't forget the scars of patriation

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the patriation of the Constitution and the advent of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, much is being overlooked. With respect to people’s rights and jurisprudence, patriation was a seminal event. It was a seminal event in other, less salubrious respects, as well.

With its exclusion of Quebec, the patriation exercise set in motion a fracturing of the country’s unity that endured for more than a dozen years. The clash triggered by the so-called night of the long knives led, in turn, to the Meech Lake accord. And it led to the stardom of Lucien Bouchard, the creation of the Bloc Québécois and, ultimately, the 1995 referendum.

The fallout from the unity wrangles resulted in the crumbling of Brian Mulroney’s Tories in Quebec. The Liberals were also stung as Meech Lake occasioned bitter divisions between the John Turner/Paul Martin forces on one side and the Pierre Trudeau/Jean Chrétien school on the other.

Connecting the dots, it could be argued that the separatists’ surge brought on by their exaggeration and exploitation of developments created the climate for federalist excesses in the form of the sponsorship program and the resulting scandal.

The trigger to the aftershocks was Mr. Mulroney’s decision to reverse course and begin plotting to get Quebec’s signature on the Constitution document. He had been initially supportive of the Trudeau/Chrétien initiative but then chose to side with Quebec nationalists, charging that the province had been ostracized.

Ottawa to unveil sweeping changes to environmental oversight

The Harper government is about to dramatically shrink the federal oversight of proposed natural resource developments, handing over environmental reviews for many projects to the provinces and cutting back the number of smaller construction projects that are subject to any environmental assessment.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is expected to unveil a sweeping legislative plan on Tuesday that will focus Ottawa’s role in environmental assessments to projects it deems to be of national significance.

Since taking office as a rookie minister last summer, Mr. Oliver has promised to streamline and overhaul Ottawa’s environmental assessment process, which the government insists is too cumbersome, duplicative and subject to tactical delaying efforts by environmental groups who are determined to block development.

More broadly, the move reflects Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vision of proper federal and provincial roles, in which Ottawa is far less active in areas of provincial jurisdiction like natural resource management, environmental protection and health policy.

The largest expansion of prison building ‘since the 1930s’

The Conservative government is in the midst of a procurement blitz to ramp up expansions at federal prisons across the country, just as it moves to pass a sweeping tough-on-crime bill that will inevitably send more people to prison and for longer.

Construction firms submitted bids for at least seven major building or renovation projects this month alone, worth at least $32-million and adding a known 576 beds to federal prisons in Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, and Alberta over the next two years.

The price tag is modest and includes projects for which the cost was vaguely estimated or not listed at all. The most expensive project, at $12-million, is to restore four 100-cell blocks at the Cowansville Institution in Quebec.

All the requests were published in July on the government’s electronic procurement system, after the Conservatives won a majority mandate and the power to pass legislation that will require additions to an already growing prison system.

From Prince Edward Island to British Columbia to Nunavut, Canada is undergoing a massive prison expansion. The federal government is adding 2,700 beds, and the provinces and territories have added or are adding a further 7,000, at an estimated cost of $4-billion. British Columbia has embarked on the most expensive building plan in its history.

Robocalls probe extends to Tory headquarters

OTTAWA — Elections Canada investigators on the trail of the "Pierre Poutine" suspect in the robocalls case have been asking questions about the actions of staff at Conservative party headquarters in Ottawa.

Nearly a year after the investigation began, the agency is trying to determine why database records provided by the party appear to be missing entries that could help identify who downloaded the phone numbers used to make fraudulent robocalls, according to a source familiar with the probe.

Investigators also are inquiring about a phone call from Conservative headquarters, made the day before the election, to RackNine, the Edmonton voice-broadcasting company whose servers were used to send out the robocalls.

On May 2, 2011, thousands of opposition supporters in Guelph, Ont., received a pre-recorded message directing them to vote at the wrong polling station. The electronic trail behind the calls eventually discovered led to a disposable cellphone registered in the fake name of Pierre Poutine.

The party has repeatedly and firmly denied that anybody in its Ottawa offices had anything to do with the Poutine drama, and until recently, the investigation has focused on the team of workers on the unsuccessful campaign of Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke.